Competition Problem 18
by Leslie Cass
West to lead and East-West to defeat South's contract of three hearts.
Successful solvers: Only Steve Bloom and Andy Prothero cracked this one. Nearly everybody found the singleton diamond lead and the subsequent §J but failed to find declarer's best try and the accurate defence that is needed to counter it. Steve Bloom is now the outright current leader for 2006.
It seems as if declarer is doomed to lose two hearts, a diamond and two clubs, but consider what happens if the defenders passively await these tricks. For example, suppose West leads the ♥K and North plays ♥A and another heart, West winning and returning a spade. In that case, South plays three rounds of spades, North ruffing the third and leading a heart to West's ♥9. West seems to have a safe exit on the ♥3, but East comes under unbearable pressure when North runs the remaining trumps. As soon as East discards a club, North can lead that suit and be sure to come to a trick in it.
To counter the triple squeeze, the defence must be more aggressive, aiming for a diamond ruff in addition to two hearts and a diamond. In that case one club trick is sufficient, and if that trick is won by the ♣Q, then that will be the entry for the diamond ruff. Accordingly, West leads the ♦9, covered around the table to South's ♦Q, and will return the ♣J after winning the second heart. Declarer will try to counter that by losing the first round of spades to West so as to be able to discard two of North's clubs on the top spades. Fortunately, East's spades are just good enough to prevent that counter, but the defenders need to be on their toes right up to trick 10, as we shall see.
A heart to the ♥Q and ♥A at trick 2 is followed by a spade from North. East rises with the ♠9 to prevent the duck, and West drops an honour under South's ♠A. South cashes the other spade winner, North discarding a club, but West again unblocks. Next comes a heart, but West wins this trick and advances the ♣J. It looks as if it's all over now, South being doomed to let East in to lead a high diamond, but there is one more string to declarer's bow: duck the ♣J and aim for a spade-diamond squeeze against East. To break that, West must cash the ♣A and lead a third club ruffed by North, who leads a trump. South does best to discard a diamond on this trick, so that North can ruff either black suit return and squeeze East with the last trump. However, West completes a fine defence by ducking the third heart. To keep the diamond menace, South must discard a spade on the fourth heart, but this allows West to return a spade and thus kill the menace in that suit.
See the solution to Competition Problem #4 for the recommended tabular format if you prefer not to write in English prose.
© Hugh Darwen, 2006
Date last modified: 11 March, 2017